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Occupy Austin in Solidarity with Turkey; Detained for Chalking City Hall

4:22 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Turkish allies and Occupy Austin gathered at Austin City Hall on Monday for a special #OccupyGezi Solidarity General Assembly. Police temporarily detained gonzo journalist Kit O’Connell.

Lighted Signs: TX <3 Resistanbul

Occupy Austin and the Austin Overpass Light Brigade joined members of the Turkish community in solidarity with Occupy Gezi on Monday.

This week has been a hard one. It’s not news to anyone paying attention that the state of national and global affairs is bleak, but there are times when the enormity of how fucked we are settles hard into the gut.

Monday saw the return of Occupy Austin to its original home at Austin City Hall. During the Texas Legislative session we moved our weekly gatherings to the Capitol. The anticipated wave of legislature-based activism never materialized (from Occupy, anyway — other groups like GetEqual staged multiple actions) and our small weekly group felt a little lost on the giant capitol grounds. Though the Leg has extended its session into ‘extra innings,’ we consented to move our gatherings back to City Hall and focus on our next steps for the future.

As June 3rd approached, the Occupy Gezi movement grew into global prominence and #OATX started receiving requests for solidarity. We invited any local allies of the Turkish people to attend our weekly assembly. About two dozen supporters joined the Assembly and we agreed to drop the usual assembly process and just create an open mic for discussion of the recent events in Turkey.

Detained for Chalking City Hall

While the Austin Audio Co-Op (fresh from an appearance at Queerbomb) set up their sound system, we chalked the plaza and steps around Austin City Hall as we have many times before. I wrote Occupy Gezi & Occupy Austin on the steps, and an older Turkish man followed me, outlining my words in yellow and others adding a colorful ISTANBUL! More of the steps soon read TX <3 Resistanbul, the message which the Austin Overpass Light Brigade would display that night.

Chalkupy: From Austin to Turkey We LOVE YOU

Occupy Gezi Chalkupy at Austin City Hall on Monday

Police appeared just as we were preparing to begin. Defiantly, I picked up a piece of chalk and wrote ‘OUR CITY HALL’ in large white letters as three officers approached. So of course, they detained me.

I know my rights and, once I knew that I was actually being detained, I identified myself with my legal name, birth date, and home address as required by Texas law. Then I invoked my right to remain silent. Three police surrounded me while others moved through the plaza. Bicycle cops soon arrived too. At least a half dozen cameras came out in the plaza, filming the police and me.

One Turkish woman spoke up: “They are killing our people in Turkey. Why are you harassing us here?”

An officer tried to placate her while another, my main interrogator, Officer Howell, badgered me with questions and sarcastic comments, adopting the tone of every high school’s mean girl bully. When I broke my silence to mention several legal precedents which show that chalk is free speech, she asked me if I was aware that Florida is three states away. Another exchange went like this:

Officer Howell: You have chalk all over your face.

Me: I invoke my right to remain to silent.

Howell: I know, I’m just saying you have chalk ALL OVER your face.

As I looked from her hard, angry eyes to the assembled crowd (Howell: “Why ARE you looking around? We’re having a conversation!”) I realized that the only thing separating these police from the pigs murdering people in Turkey was their orders. It’s a thin blue line indeed, and I felt like Officer Howell would go just as eagerly about her duties either way whether it was badgering me for my free speech or shooting a tear gas canister directly at my head.

This was far from my worst encounter with police (that honor goes to the Houston Police Department), nor even my most unpleasant with Austin Police. I’ve known for a long time that the police serve the 1%, but it would be hard to underline that fact more severely than at a moment like this: harassed by the police state as we tried to honor the victims of police violence across the world.

All our grievances are connected.

Everywhere Resistance Everywhere Taksim 

The police released me after reiterating that they considered chalk to be criminal mischief. Several cars would continue to monitor the gathering.

At last, we could hear the voices of our Turkish guests.

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#D12 UPDATE: Gulf Port 7 Accept Misdemeanor Plea Bargain

2:36 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

A red tent is erected over a blockade.

The Houston Fire Department places an inflatable red tent over the Gulf Port 7 during their arrest. The seven felony charges were reduced to misdemeanors today.

Corey Williams of Occupy Austin traveled to Houston today with some defendants in the Gulf Port 7 trial. His Twitter feed (@iamed_nc) suggests a tense court room situation, but lawyers ultimately agreed on a deal. Under the plea bargain, all seven defendants will accept the Class B Misdemeanor charge of Obstructing A Roadway. This is the same charge faced by the other participants in the Gulf Port Blockade on December 12, 2011 who did not use the lock box devices.

Undercover Austin Police Officer Rick Reza poses with one of the lockboxes he constructed with other undercover officers.

Previously, the seven defendants faced a charge of Manufacture or Use of a Criminal Device, a state felony that included serious jail time. Additionally, the court commuted the group’s sentences to time served, covering the need for future jail time or paying court costs. The decision is a relief, especially as the case’s sympathetic judge was due to be replaced by a more conservative Rick Perry appointee due to impending retirement.

The arrests occurred during a national day of action at the ports against Goldman-Sachs, organized by Occupy Oakland. The Gulf Port 7 made use of PVC-pipe devices called lock boxes, also known as sleeping dragons, to link their arms together. During the trial, it was revealed that the lock boxes were constructed by three undercover Austin Police Department officers assigned to infiltrate Occupy Austin. Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo continues to insist that this was done “for safety” rather than a deliberate act of provocation and entrapment.

Defendant Ronnie Garza told Firedoglake,

We won. We got the charges we originally were expecting and we got 400 pages of emails, texts and embarrassing photos along with the names of 3 undercover officers. We also found the role the fusion centers played in all of this. All that is left is to reveal the name of a fourth undercover we recently found.

According to Ronnie, now that the court case is over the emails and texts released during pre-trial will be released to journalists and the public after the redaction of some sensitive personal details of the named activists.

One of the seven, Eric Marquez, is still imprisoned in the Dallas area, and may face as much as another year in jail, but Corey told @OccupyAustin he hoped this decision makes his situation “a little easier.”

More on Firedoglake about the Gulf Port 7 Case and Austin Police Infiltration

Ronnie Garza interviewed by mainstream media while wearing mock lockboxes.

Ronnie Garza, one of the Gulf Port 7, poses in a fake lockbox at a press conference held at Austin Police Department headquarterslast year.

I’ll continue to update Firedoglake on future developments in this case.

More: Storify of Corey’s Twitter coverage

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#D12 Gulf Port Action, One Year Later

4:17 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

More on the Gulf Port 7: Austin Police Enabled Houston FeloniesJudge Campbell is Not AmusedAustin and Houston Police Coordinated Through Fusion Center and 2 More Undercover Officers Revealed

Reflections on Gulf Port Action

One year ago today, Occupy Oakland declared a National Day of Action against Goldman-Sachs.

A mounted officer points and shouts as they attack a crowd of activists at the Port

Mounted Houston Police Department officers at the Port of Houston on December 12

The action would center on the Port of Oakland, which they shut down for over two days. Solidarity actions around the country took place at other ports, at Walmart distribution centers, and Goldman-Sachs offices in New York City.

About 200 occupiers from around Texas gathered at Occupy Houston’s encampment, Tranquility Park, and from there traveled to the Port of Houston where we blockaded the main entrance. There were twenty arrests.

I wrote about the Gulf Port Action on my blog, Approximately 8,000 Words and what it was like to step out onto the road around the port and see an army of law enforcement waiting for us:

l felt a little overwhelmed as we jumped from the car at the port, seeing a massive collection of law enforcement might. There were helicopters overhead, a couple dozen officers lining the street including mounted police on horses, and, behind a fence inside the port itself, we could see dozens more including a bus for arrests and the sheriff and SWAT team.

I’d never been to the port before, and there was a palpable sense of almost Cyberpunk-level desolation. The air smelled as bad as you imagine it does in a William Gibson book. At first there were few of us, but more and more began to get dropped off in waves until we had a couple hundred protesters at the peak, finally outnumbering the police. We chanted and spoke with a few members of the mainstream media that had managed to get inside. Then, suddenly, everyone — police and occupiers alike — were running.

Though I did not intend to do more than chant, observe, and livetweet, in the intense response to the blockade I found myself helping form a human wall to keep occupiers from being trampled by horses. Though I have attended many other activist events, including eluding a potentially violent arrest inside Chase headquarters at the September 17, 2012 anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, these attacks by police were the most intense I have personally faced. Despite our efforts, a young woman near me was kicked in the stomach by a mounted officer’s steel-toed boots while a hoof stomped the shoe of Corey Williams, an Austin livestreamer (whose footwear was fortunately also reinforced). And then came the most psychologically violent act of the day: the ‘one percent tent.’ In an image that quickly went viral (and contributed to Oakland continuing its blockade into a second day), Houston Fire Department firefighters assembled a red inflatable tent over the activists to hide arrests from sight.

A Direct Attack on Corrupt Capitalism

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#D12 Gulf Port 7: Austin Police Department vs. Houston

1:58 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

More on the Gulf Port 7: Austin Police Enabled Houston Felonies, Judge Campbell is Not Amused and Austin and Houston Police Coordinated Through Fusion Center.

Pre-Trial Hearing to Resume October 31; Criminal Instrument Charges Proliferate

Ronnie Garza interviewed by mainstream media while wearing mock lockboxes.

Members of the Austin media interview Ronnie Garza while he wears mock lockboxes at Austin Police HQ. (Photo: Kit O'Connell).

The Texas fusion center enabled Austin Police to entrap activists in Houston, but apparently it can’t help settle a dispute when that entrapment comes to light. The Austin Chronicle reports that the Austin Police Department would rather drop the charges against the Gulf Port 7 than reveal their undercover officers:

If the city of Austin – and, importantly, the Austin Police Department – had its way, the charges pending in Houston against a handful of Occupy protesters charged with blocking a road last winter at the Port of Hous­ton would be dismissed. If that happens, the APD will not have to reveal the names of two undercover officers who were part of a three-investigator contingent that worked to keep tabs on the activities of Occupy Austin members; the department would like to keep those two names confidential. Unfortunately, it does not appear that the Harris County District Attorney’s Office is interested in what the city or APD wants. During a court hearing Oct. 4, Assistant D.A. Joshua Phanco told Judge Joan Camp­bell the D.A.’s office is “prepared to turn over those two names” and to move forward with the case against the Occupiers, including OA member Ronnie Garza.

The seven activists, who came from Occupy groups in Austin, Dallas and Houston, linked their bodies with lockboxes (or ‘sleeping dragons’). As a result, they were charged with using a criminal instrument, an obscure state felony unused since the days of Deep Throat (the pornography, not the informant) when it was invented to prosecute projectionists. The pre-trial hearing continues October 31st, where the names of the two Austin Police Department officers that worked alongside Detective Shannon G Dowell are expected to be revealed. Although the Occupy movment will be better informed about its infiltrators and their methods, seven of its members face prison time in one of the country’s worst state prisons.

One of the seven charged with using a “criminal instrument” is a veteran, Eric Marquez, imprisoned since the December Port Shutdown thanks to complications with previous charges. After Occupy Austin successfully raised thousands in bail to free him from Houston, Dallas immediately imprisoned him again — because he missed court dates in Dallas while jailed in Houston! His bail in Dallas is now $100,000.

If the Gulf Port 7 case goes to trial, the verdict could set an important precedent for activism elsewhere in the state. Though lockboxes have a long history of use in nonviolent civil disobedience, the criminal instrument charges have spread to the Tarsands blockade. Alejandro de la Torre, Maggie Gorry and now Shannon Beebe all now face this charge reports Tar Sands Blockade:

There is also a new and outrageous development in the story. Our brave friend Shannon Beebe is now being charged retro-actively with felonies for using a device to lock arms with Benjamin around a piece of Keystone XL construction machinery as part of a peaceful protest. This is an archaic charge (use of a ‘criminal instrument’) that has literally no case history in the last 30 years. This adds ”insult to injury” with slapping additional FELONY charges against our friend. Yesterday, Shannon was pulled over and arrested because of this new, outstanding warrant for a retro-active felony charge. She’s currently in jail on a $7,500 bail. Its clear that the industry is pursuing a strategy to utilize their deep pockets and corporate lawyers to drain the limited grassroots resources we’ve managed to raise.

Previously on myFDL, Benjamin Franklin reported on his and Shannon’s torture by police at their arrest.

 

#D12 Gulf Port 7: Austin Police Coordinated With Houston Through Fusion Center

6:32 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

An angry Jugge Campbell

Judge Joan Campbell explains Brady disclosure to lawyers at Houston district court, September 6 2012 (Photo: John Jack Anderson, used with permission)

For more on the Gulf Port 7 and Austin Police Infiltration of Occupy Austin see Undercover Austin Officer Enabled Houston Felonies, Judge Campbell Is Not Amused, and Kit’s Gulf Port 7 Interview.

Austin Police coordinated felony arrests at the Gulf Port Shutdown with Houston Police through the fusion center known as Austin Regional Intelligence Center.

The pre-trial hearings for the Gulf Port 7 case continued on September 6, 2012; although the Austin Police Department presented the information Judge Joan Campbell requested at the previous hearing, most of it was done in camera – in private, where defense and accused activists could not access it. What was revealed is troubling — that APD coordinated the day’s actions with Houston police through the local Texas fusion center, known as Austin Regional Intelligence Center. This, of course, raises the question of to what degree federal authorities were involved in the entrapment of Occupy activists; I personally witnessed Department of Homeland Security vehicles on the ground at the Occupy Houston encampment on December 12, in addition to photographing men in unknown military-like uniforms who were observing the port shutdown.

Further, it appears that officials involved may have made a decision to withhold information that was requested by Ronnie Garza’s defense attorney. This is in direct violation of Brady disclosure. Campbell’s frustration with the behavior of the state is clear in court transcripts, as she gives lawyers a lesson in this essential aspect of criminal law:

Here’s the thing, y’all – under Brady — y’all can’t make that decision.  Y’all need to scrupulously look through any information that you have. Always. Y’all cannot just rely on, it does not look like anything, that is not what you can do because clearly the result is an Austin police officer authorized … bought the things that made this a felony. That’s what happened. And so that information … is clearly Brady, can be a defense, may make, if this goes to trial, may make a jury find them not guilty and that type of information needs to be carefully passed down through the channels and y’all cannot under Brady make the decision.

The state has brought a Motion To Quash, asking that the names of undercover officers and related documents not be turned over to the defense. Campbell agreed to review the documents in camera and return near the end of September to make a ruling. But she took the time to underline the unusual nature of this case:

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#D12 Gulf Port 7 Interview: Questions Still Unanswered About Austin Police Infiltration

9:56 am in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

A bearded undercover 'Butch' stands behind Natalie, whose mouth is taped at an NDAA protest.

Undercover APD Detective Shannon 'Butch' Dowell stands next to Natalie Atwater, a member of Occupy Austin facing felony charges in Houston because of using his lockboxes. (Photo: John Jack Anderson / Austin Chronicle, used with permission).

For more FDL coverage of the Gulf Port 7 case see Undercover Austin Detective Enables Houston Felonies and Judge Joan Campbell Is Not Amused.

Since I broke the story of Austin Police infiltration and provocation at Occupy Austin on Firedoglake, the story has become international news. To review, Austin Police Narcotics Detective Shannon G Dowell, along with two other still unidentified undercover agents, infiltrated Occupy Austin under orders that reach all the way to Chief Art Acevedo. While undercover, Dowell (known to activists ‘Butch’) built and delivered lockbox devices (a.k.a. sleeping dragons) to activists to use at the Houston Port Shutdown, resulting in 7 activists facing state felony charges.

Monday I was interviewed by Marlo Blue of 90.1 KPFT, Houston’s Pacifica station. Below is a transcript, but you can also listen here. The interview begins at 1:55.

Marlo Blue, KPFT: The Occupy effort seems quiet these days but controversy continues to swirl around the group’s efforts and that of some of its members, also officers who allegedly infiltrated that camp. Well, back in December of last year, groups of Occupy members from Austin, Dallas and Houston took part in the National Port Shutdown Day of Action.

Seven activists blocked the main entrance into the Port of Houston by laying in the road and linking arms inside lockboxes (also known as sleeping dragons) which physically linked them together so that police [must] cut them apart. The use of these instruments resulted in these seven being charged with Unlawful Use Of A Criminal Instrument Or Device while others who merely linked arms and legs faced lesser misdemeanor charges.

One of those in attendance has followed the action through his blog and he joins us now. Kit O’Connell. Kit, thank you for joining us.

Kit O’Connell, myFDL Editor: Hi, thanks for having me.

KPFT: Your blog has quickly become one of my very favorites so I’m very pleased to have you on today.

Kit: Thank you!

KPFT: In your blog, you talk about how Austin undercover officers infiltrated this camp. What led you to suspect these officers or was it discovered after the arrests?

Kit: It was discovered after the arrests. Specifically, the arrests of course occurred on December 12 on the Port Shutdown Day. In the first days of February of 2012, the first inkling came in as an anonymous tip to Occupy Austin’s email saying specifically that a person a person who was known to us as Butch was an undercover officer. It didn’t give his full name so it took quite a bit of investigation to find him after that.

KPFT: Now your blog points to a key question in this incident: Why did undercover Austin Police Department Detective Shannon G Dowell provide material support for an activist protest that resulted in them being charged with a felony in Houston, Texas? Did you actually get an answer to that question?

Kit: We did not. It’s unclear to what degree the Austin Police Department knew about this. They’re admitting, even bragging about their use of undercover officers. The police chief has been talking on Twitter about how it kept the people safe to do this but they’re at the same time saying that they weren’t aware of Dowell buying the lockboxes. I find that hard to believe and I would still like some answers.

KPFT: And of course when the arrests took place, you know, in order I guess to keep everyone safe, they also droppped tents on the protesters to I guess to prevent other people from seeing the dangerous protesters inside or…?

Kit: I wish I had a good explanation for those tents. I was present when those went over people and it was one of the scariest moments of my life to see friends of mine vanish under an inflatable fire department tent.

KPFT: That must have been terrifying. I mean, because, you really don’t know what’s going to happen. There is no transparency when a big ‘ol tent is being dropped.

Kit: Exactly. And, I mean, there were no threats from the protesters. At that time, we were being corralled, even trampled Houston Police Department horses to be kept back, well back from the scene where they were, I guess, cutting the lockboxes apart under that tent.

KPFT: Now, you did mention at first of course, Austin Police Department Shannon G Dowell. Was he the only one who infiltrated the Occupy Austin group?

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